Update: I’ve revised the info here to reflect gear options from mid 2021.
When field recording sound effects worldwide we need equipment that will be mobile, durable, flexible, and capable of capturing realistic, evocative sound effect recordings. You can read more about these considerations here.
In the last post we looked at headphones and a microphone setup that work well field recording sound effects on the road.
Today we’ll continue by looking at a digital audio recorder.
In the next article I’ll discuss the role of equipment to a field recordist, and what function gear holds in capturing meaningful sound effect recordings.Note: this post contains affiliate links. If you purchase from these links you won't pay a penny more, and we'll get a small commission that helps us keep the lights on. Thank you for your support! Learn more.
For years I used a Sound Devices 722 while travelling. It served me well with its durability, ample storage, quiet preamps, and straight-forward interface. 722s are still used by field recordists. I found after the constant wear and tear of travel that my unit was showing its age.
Thankfully, Sound Devices released the updated MixPre field recorders. I quickly purchased a MixPre-6. When the company updated the line with the “II” series, I bought one not long after. Why?
- Construction. The MixPre-6 II is made of die-cast aluminum and is incredibly durable. Mine banged Europe, Asia, and America for years tumbling through security x-ray machines and being crammed in airplane overhead bins while recording tens of thousands of field recordings. My MixPre-6 II has worked in frigid winters and broiling deserts without a single problem.
- Size. The MixPre-6 II can easily fit into carry-on baggage. It is is diminutive at 36mm x 166mm x 118mm (1.40” x 6.53” x 4.65”).
- Weight. As any traveller knows, extra weight slows you down. For field recordists, this is especially important. Cumbersome gear means less energy and time to record cool sounds. The MixPre makes this a thing of the past: it’s light, weighing in at .56 kg (19.9 oz).
- Power. The MixPre-6 II has incredible power flexibility. It can be powered with AA batteries, NP-style video camera batteries, AC power, or even a power bank via a USB-C cable. I powered mine with an Anker PowerCore 20100 ($33.99). It’s cheap, rugged, can be purchased anywhere, can charge your phone and GoPro at the same time, and is able to be charged from any wall socket. Most importantly, you avoid the uncomfortable questions about strange-looking pro power batteries when you pass airport security.
- 32-bit recording. If you’re setting your levels right, you’ll never need the benefits of 32-bit recording. When travelling, there’s little time to fuss with the perfect recording set up. Sometimes you need to punch in quickly. This is when 32-bit recording is a lifesaver – your levels will never clip. That unusual siren that blurts suddenly nearby will be captured in perfect fidelity.
- Preamps. For a semi-pro recorder, the preamps on the MixPre-6 II are superb. Combined with the 32-bit recording advantage, this recorder is capable of stellar sound.
- Channels. The MixPre-6 II has 4 XLR/TRS inputs, as well as a stereo mini-jack line in. Most of the time, I record in stereo. However, the extra channels provide the opportunity to grow, for instance if I wanted to purchase a four-channel Ambisonic microphone. Generally though, when field recording internationally I have to move fast and cover a lot of ground. Constructing a four-channel or surround microphone setup isn't practical and attracts too much attention when I need to be invisible.
There are a lot of other great things about the MixPre-6 II but those points in particular are helpful when recording sound effects worldwide.
What other audio recorder options would be a good choice for travelling and recording sound effects?
- Sound Devices MixPre-3 II ($752.00). If you’re focused on recording in stereo, this recorder is the best choice. Solid construction, 32-bit recording, and whisper-quiet preamps.
- Zoom F6 ($699.99). Zoom’s 6-channel offering. Solid construction and compact size. One of the only other recorders beyond the MixPre II line that can record in 32-bit. Notably adds more channels than the MixPre-3 II while priced less.
- Zoom F8n (Price not available). Zoom’s 8-channel recorder. A larger form factor than the F6 but with better ergonomics. You won’t often need 8 channels while travelling and recording, but the diminutive size won’t work against you, either. Also supports linked smartphone monitoring and recording for an intriguing stealth option.
Why Choosing The Right Gear is Important
When I’m travelling field recording elaborate equipment is not practical. I need to be agile, so gear that is mobile is important. Because I find myself in demanding environments for extensive periods I need the equipment to take a bit of beating, so it must be durable as well.
When field recording on the road I will encounter a variety of sound effects. Most of the time I will capture crowd recordings and ambiences. I will also find rare cars, machines, and appliances that are native to a country or a city. This means I need a microphone that can record specific sound effects equally well. I need equipment that is flexible.
But most importantly, since my goal is to capture the soul of an environment, I need equipment that records clearly and accurately and is capable of recording realistic evocative sound effects.
This selection of equipment won’t work for everyone. It’s what’s comfortable for the way I record for the airbornesound.com library, and for the type of sound effects I want to capture from countries, cities, and cultures worldwide.
Buying the most expensive equipment isn’t the right answer. Getting cheap, breakable and poor fidelity equipment isn’t right either. The best way to view equipment is to consider what is appropriate for you.
Think about what you want to record. Think about how you will approach recording (read more about different types of field recording here). The right selection of equipment will be a mix of practical needs and limitations and the suitable choice to record the most evocative sound effects in your situation.
In my next post I’ll share my thoughts why gear does and does not matter to a field recordist capturing sound effects.
- Discover pro field recordist equipment choices in the “A Month of Field Recordist” series (Year 1, Year 2).
- Read an analysis of those pro equipment choices (Year 1, Year 2).
- Find the best field recording equipment for you in the Field Recording Gear Buyer’s Guide.
- Wallet a bit thin right now? Learn How to Record Sound Effects on a Budget.
- Learn how to decide upon an audio recorder in the Digital Sound Recorder Buyer’s Guide.